By Larry Fine
(Reuters) – Yankees captain Derek Jeter faced the media on Wednesday to explain the retirement announcement he made last week on Facebook, and said he decided to make 2014 his final season because it was simply time to do other things.
Jeter, who played just 17 games in 2013 because of a series of injuries to his legs and ankles, said he worked harder than ever to get ready for the upcoming season and was fit to play, but that it was time to move on after what will be his 20th season.
“I felt it was the right time,” Jeter said to a standing-room crowd including teammates and Yankees owners and executives at the club’s spring training complex in Tampa, Florida.
“This will be parts of 20 seasons in New York, 23 if you count the minor leagues. I want to do other things in my life.”
Jeter mentioned his foundation, TURN 2, dedicated to motivating young people to embrace healthy lifestyles, and his desire to have a family, but would share no details.
He said he preferred to focus on the upcoming season.
“This has absolutely nothing to do with how I feel physically,” insisted Jeter, who will turn 40 during his last campaign. “Physically, I feel great and look forward to playing a full season.
Jeter, the starting shortstop since 1996, in 2011 became the first player to collect 3,000 hits for the Yankees and his total of 3,316 hits puts him ninth on Major League Baseball’s all-time list. He is a 13-time All-Star, winner of five Gold Gloves for fielding and was most valuable player of the 2000 World Series.
READY TO PLAY
Jeter said he looked forward to another strong season.
“I expect each and every year to be successful,” said Jeter, who has won five World Series rings and made two other trips to the Fall Classic with the Yankees.
“That’s the bottom line. I expect to come out here, do my job, compete, help our team win. If expectations had changed, I would have been out of here a long time ago.”
Jeter said he published his retirement announcement on Facebook to get the issue over and done with, and limit the distractions about his future during the upcoming season.
“I tried to do this under the radar,” he said with a chuckle as he faced the massive throng of reporters. “I didn’t want this to be a press conference, where I come here and read a speech.
“I didn’t want to be a distraction to my teammates.”
Keeping a calm, steadfast approach even in the face of turmoil has always been a hallmark of Jeter, who is entering his 12th season as team captain – the longest tenure of Yankees captaincy, a group of 11 that includes Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
The poker-faced Jeter was asked if he felt emotional.
“Trying to get me to cry?” he replied, drawing a laugh. “Yeah, I’m emotional. But it’s kind of difficult because we still have a season to play.
“I have feelings. I’m not emotionally stunted. There’s feelings there. I just have been pretty good at trying to hide my emotions over the years. I try and have the same demeanor each and every day.”
Jeter said coming to the ballpark for rehabilitation throughout 2013 from a string of injuries that followed his fractured ankle in the 2012 American League Championship Series, took the fun out of his job.
“Last year was not fun because I didn’t play,” said Jeter, who had gone on the disabled list just five times in his career before the 2013 season. “It forced me to think about how long I want to do this.
“You can’t do this forever. I feel like the time is right after this year. I want to have a family. I have a young nephew, and you miss so many things,” said the bachelor, who has been linked to high-profile singers, actresses and beauty queens over the years. “I look forward to that.”
Jeter, who holds MLB postseason records for most games played (158), hits (200) and runs scored (111), said his approach to his farewell season would not change.
“My personal and team goals are exactly the same,” he said, all business, as usual. “To win.”
“Our job this year is to get to the playoffs and we won’t know when my last game is,” Jeter said about a retirement send-off. “And hopefully it will be after we win the World Series.”
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Gene Cherry)